I have debated on writing about this topic, because it is one of so much controversy. However, as I sit back and see all the rhetoric and memes, I can’t help but wonder if people truly understand the issue at hand. As a mental health professional, law school student, former social worker, former juvenile probation officer and public school employee, I feel the need to share insight into things the average person may not consider…
1. Stop the gun banter until you really understand the issue. And stop the partisan politics. I have a gun. My husband has lots of guns. I appreciate that right. Saying that, not everyone should be entitled to the same. Felons don’t deserve gun rights. Those with serious mental illness should not have guns. Children should not have guns (unsupervised). And no one, other than military and law enforcement, should have assault rifles or any other weapon that is capable of killing mass amounts of people in minutes. What is the justification? Unless there is a zombie apocalypse, I don’t see a need. I will admit I’m not a gun expert so if there is a valued need for citizens having such a weapon, beyond just wanting one, I’m all ears. Saying this does not make me a bleeding heart liberal. It also doesn’t make me “Don’t Tread on Me” right-wing conservative.
2. Mental illness truly IS the issue. As I type this, I am waiting to get a mental health patient placed in a psychiatric hospital. I have been waiting to find placement for 6 hours now, as the number of psychiatric beds are extremely limited. A deputy is required to sit with this patient until he is placed, which is one less law enforcement officer on the roads. This patient is both homicidal and suicidal and having auditory hallucinations which tell him to kill people. He is only one of many.
In Virginia for 2017, there was an estimated 73,000 people with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. There were an estimated 145,000 people with severe bi-polar disorder. As of 2016, there were an estimated 1526 psychiatric hospital beds in Virginia. Psychiatric patients who are involuntarily committed average a stay of 5-7 days. Once they are released from the hospital, only about 14% follow up with aftercare services on an outpatient basis according to recent studies. Are you seeing the problem?
Every single school shooting, or mass shooting for that matter, has been done by someone who is seriously mentally ill. Most all of them had prior psychiatric treatment of some sort and all of them, minus 1%, had warning signs. I am not suggesting that every person with mental illness, including bi-polar disorder or schizophrenia, would commit a mass murder – however, there are many who are very capable due to their uncontrolled mental illness. The average person would not believe this unless you work in the mental health field.
There is not enough funding currently budgeted for adequate mental health treatment. There are not enough public and private psychiatric hospitals. There are not enough outpatient community services to manage caseloads. There are not enough law enforcement officers to transport and sit with patients who are under emergency custody orders for hours and hours while a hospital bed is located. There are not enough assessment workers to timely assess the amount of people needing treatment. There are not enough laws mandating lengthier treatment and stringent protocols before release from hospitalization. There simply is not enough…. This should be the first and foremost topic of concern of legislators.
If the general public truly knew how many seriously mentally ill people surrounded them everyday, they would have a totally different outlook on the issue. Trust me. I had no idea until I began working on the front lines of mental health.
3. Stop the “Keep God in Schools” rhetoric. Don’t get me wrong, I am a Christian and I love Jesus! The separation of church and state is NOT what is causing mass school shootings. If you are a Christian, God is with you. Period. Just because schools can’t mandate public prayer or Bible reading, does not mean God is not in schools. Across America, there are Fellowship of Christian Athlete Clubs, Bible Study groups, “Meet me at the Pole” campaigns where students meet to pray, independent ministries that students can join, etc. These initiatives are NOT banned from public schools. Reading from the bible or reciting prayer each day aloud to all students is not going to force a mentally ill student to convert to Christianity or prevent them from harming another. Only God can do that. Students who are Christians can pray whenever they want. No one is stopping them. I chose for my children to go to public schools for two reasons. First of all, I believe in the quality of education that public school provides. Second, I want my children to be the light in a very dark world. I want them to be kind to others and demonstrate God’s love through their interactions. I want them to know that evil exists, as well as false teachings, and allow them to learn to be able to defend their beliefs so they are not blind-sided by world-views when they get out into the real world. That is not to say I condone private schools. It is just a choice that I have made for my family.
Several memes that I have seen reference the fact that “when God was allowed in our schools,” these school shootings didn’t happen. It is true that when I was in high school, students proudly hung their hunting rifles in the windows of their truck right in the school parking lots. However, times have changed and the media is to blame for a lot of the “copycatting” we are seeing. Just as suicides are often “copycatted” (which is why they are rarely publicized), so are school shootings.
4. Back to guns.. what’s wrong with regulations? Again, I appreciate my right to have a gun. But I am having a hard time understanding why so many right-wingers are so opposed to regulations. We have to register our cars, boats and tractors. We have to get licenses to get married, hunt, fish, and drive. We have to report our assets and how much money we make. What in the world is wrong with keeping up with how many and what type of guns people have? So what if we have to jump a few hoops to get one? Has anyone tried to get Sudafed lately? If you haven’t, you have to show ID and your name goes into a registry to make sure you aren’t buying too much due to the amount of people using it to make meth. While I hold my breath every time I need to buy pseudoephedrine for fear that I am going to have bought my max for the specified term, I don’t mind the red tape if that means that it is reducing the amount of methamphetamine that are hitting our streets. Why should gun control be any different? If you are doing things lawfully and for legitimate reasons, why do you care about the regulations if it benefits the greater good? I certainly don’t mind.
5. Families are in crisis! Why are we seeing an increase in violence and mass shootings? There are lots of reasons. They vary from mental illness to bullying, to social media and technology, to access to guns and video games. But the underlying issue is also the demise of the family structure.
Several years ago, there was an initiative in Virginia to keep kids out of foster care. This has been done through the use of kinship care and prevention services. Basically, the goal is to reduce the foster care numbers, realizing that placements are expensive and that foster care is traumatizing to children. While I recognize how traumatic it is for children to go into foster care, it is more traumatic to leave them in a home where they are abused, neglected, and subjected to drug/alcohol abuse and domestic violence repeatedly. Prevention services are a great idea, however, there is not enough funding to ensure that quality services are given to families to include close monitoring and follow up. Kinship care is also a great idea, so that children don’t have to go in a stranger’s home when removed from their parent/guardian, however, funding is rarely provided to these already struggling families when they take on another child. Further, many of the extended families in which children are being placed have similar concerns that caused them to be removed from the birth families in the first place. Abuse and neglect is often generational, after all. The idea behind the initiative is a great one, but as many other initiatives, they are often not adequately funded.
When children are in abusive or neglectful homes, research shows that the earlier they are removed, the better the chance of resiliency. The older they get and longer they are subjected to abuse and neglect, the more likely they are to develop behavioral and mental health concerns. Further, the more likely they are to repeat the abuse and neglect themselves as an adult.
I have been in this field long enough to see the generational trend. The abused and neglected children I once dealt with are now parents who are repeating history. And usually, they are the ones that were left in the home far too long or were never removed at all. Certainly, there are exceptions to this rule, but research supports my theory.
On January 1, 2007, there were 8150 children in foster care in Virginia. Eleven years later, on January 1, 2018, there were 5186. Does this mean that our society has improved so much that we are down by 37% of abusive and neglectful homes? I think not. For fiscal year 2016, Virginia had 127,837 child abuse/neglect complaints. Out of those, 73,301 were “accepted.” A total of 50,176 became “family assessments,” meaning a social worker referred the family out for services, sometimes simply meaning sending a letter with community resources for them to follow up with. 21,621 of the complaints were investigated. Out of those, 9578 were “founded,” meaning there was evidence of abuse and neglect. So let’s add this up, 9578 founded complaints and 5186 in foster care. Puzzling isn’t it?
I’m not suggesting all these school shooters come from abusive or neglectful homes, but I can tell you that products of these homes are often left with severe behavioral and mental health issues. The longer they are subjected to the abuse and neglect, the more serious and irreversible the consequences
We must make changes. Social Service agencies need more funding. They need more workers who can get out and thoroughly investigate situations and follow up. These days, many agencies are barely putting out fires because of the work demands. I am not suggesting that we start yanking children out of every “less than stellar” home, but I am suggesting that we offer intensive preventative services to ensure children are safe and that parent’s are compliant. This goes far beyond sending letters with resources for parents to contact with no follow up of compliance.
6. Before posting your next meme about school shootings, consider your willingness to put your money “where your mouth is.” If you really want changes to be made, it’s going to cost us all. More money for law enforcement, more money for mental health services, more money for gun regulation, more money for schools to amp up security and prevention services. There is not one answer/solution to the problem. I’m not advocating for more governmental spending, but let’s face it, our tax dollars are what funds these services. Perhaps funds can be cut in other areas, in fact, I’m sure they can. Heaven knows that middle class Americans are already taxed ridiculously. But I’m willing to support these endeavors to truly make America great again and keep our children safe.
7. Be kind and teach your kids to do the same. What if we stepped out of our comfort zone and reached out to those hurting? What if we encouraged our children to befriend someone with few friends? What if we focused more on kindness and less on popularity? I know. We can encourage it but our kids don’t always listen. But what if we modeled it in our own lives? What if we reached out to that parent who is at wit’s end with their kid? What if we offered help and suppport? What if we stopped judging and actually helped one another?
8. Stop defending bad behavior. As stated in previous posts, we have come to a point in our society in which parents quickly go to the defense of their child. They are quick to curse teachers/administrators when their child gets a bad grade or gets a referral. They are quick to blame their child’s actions on ADHD, Autism, Depression, bad teachers, prejudice, etc and offer no accountability whatsoever. They are more worried about WHO knows about their child being naughty rather than what the child actually did. THIS is a huge paradigm shift from years ago, pre-school shootings, and has a huge implication on where we are today as a society. We are raising a generation of entitled and spoiled humans.
You don’t have to agree with me. Perhaps you have better ideas. That’s fantastic! But please stop concentrating on only a small piece of the puzzle and know all the facts surrounding the issues.